Culture Embrace?

I’ve been back home for about a week now, and I still have yet to be really culture-shocked. Everyone had been preparing me to be “reverse” culture-shocked when I returned to the States, and they warned me that jet lag could take weeks to get over, but I haven’t really had any of that. Walking through the airport at LAX, surrounded by Americans all speaking English to one another, and seeing the American flag with President Obama’s picture beneath it captioned, “Welcome to the United States of America” really felt like waking from a long, strange dream and returning back to, well…normal.

It was really perfect to get back home just in time for Independence Day. I felt like this year, more than ever, I was able to really appreciate all of the freedom that our nation enjoys. Hearing the song “God Bless the USA” got me a little more choked up than it usually does. The government will never tell me that I can’t make a trip to another country or move overseas if I want to….The government will never put a limit on how many children I’m allowed to have….The government never forced me into a college major that I didn’t want to take….I can own my own property….I can place my vote for our nation’s leader this November….I can visit any website on the internet and listen to any kind of music that I want to. I really enjoyed spending the year in China, but America is hands-down my favorite place on Earth!

There’s nothing more American that barbeque and….


That being said, there are a couple of things in America that I’m still having trouble getting used to. Not to sound rude, but I forgot just how obese Americans are! You occasionally see overweight people in China, but no one as absurdly blubbery as the people walking the streets in America. The day we got back to the States, we ate lunch at Applebees (Ricky Bobby’s dining establishment of choice) and we actually saw a man so large he was having difficulty wedging himself out of the booth where he’d just finished off his meal. It probably has something to do with culinary monstrosities such as this:

What is with this weird bacon obsession?

And I thought eating duck tongues in China was disgusting! Little did I know what I was coming home to…

Speaking of Applebees, Justin and I have yet to be able to finish a restaurant meal! Most places serve meals that are WAY too big, and since we are vagabonds and have no refrigerator to store leftovers, I have been feeling really guilty about wasting food. Even after stuffing myself until I feel sick, I can only usually finish about half of the food on my plate. After wasting food at Applebees and Denny’s, Justin and I visited Olive Garden and finally remembered to split our entree so we wouldn’t waste anymore food (what can I say? Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs!).

I also feel a little bit sick about how so many people in China are poor and starving, and people in America are treating eating like an Olympic event. Eat twelve hot wings in six minutes and win a free t-shirt, plus your name up on our wall of fame! When we were at Olive Garden the other night, Justin asked the waiter about the portion size of the meal we were about to share, and the waiter said, “Oh, it’s a pretty big dish! It’ll definitely fill you up. You’ll be feeling pretty useless afterwards.” We all laughed, but I felt a pang of guilt when he said it. Is that the goal for suppertime these days? Not just gaining sustenance and energy, but eating until we’re beached on the couch like whales, feeling completely useless? It’s an idea that will take me awhile to adjust to, but I’m kind of hoping that I don’t get used to it at all…

The question that so many of our Chinese friends asked us before we left was, “When will you come back to China?” We laughed and told them we weren’t sure, but it probably won’t be for a long time. They were sad that we weren’t coming back in the fall to teach again, and I’m a little bit sad about it too. It was a nice job, and now we’re faced with trying to find jobs in the U.S., and living off of the hospitality of family and friends until we can figure out where we’ll be living and what we’ll be doing.

Will we really ever return to China? That’s a good question.

I’m going to go ahead and tell you a secret: Justin and I would like to adopt a little Chinese girl someday. We actually looked into it while we were living in China, and there are a whole bunch of requirements (and expenses!) involved in the process that we don’t quite meet yet, including the adopting couple being over the age of thirty. But in another four or five years….who knows? We may be on a plane headed back to China for a very special reason. 🙂


Old Friends and New Friends

It’s been a long time since I wrote about our epic Thanksgiving meal and our motley group of Chinese friends who joined us for dinner. I think that it’s well past time to give you an update on how everyone is doing.

About a week ago, we finally caught up with Cherry for the first time in a long time. We had texted her back and forth during the winter holiday a bit, but it had been quite a while since we’d last seen her. We went out to dinner with her at a little tiny restaurant along the street of snacks, just for old time’s sake. True to form, Cherry could not make it through the dinner without dropping a few pieces of chicken in her lap by accident and causing a big stain on her nice sweater. “Oh my god!” she squealed, dabbing at her sweater with a wet napkin while Justin and I exchanged glances and tried not to laugh.

During dinner, she filled us in all of her latest boy troubles. I may not have mentioned it in my other posts concerning Cherry, but she is a magnet for bad boys. About a year ago she was dating a boy who had a criminal record largely due to his violent nature. “Sometimes he hurt me,” she admitted in a quiet voice, which made me so sad. I tried to tell her that she deserves much better than that, and she responded with, “But I loved him very much. Maybe I still do. He has a hard life.” Ugh! What is it about abusive boys that draws girls in and makes them feel like they can help them and change them? It’s the same in every language, apparently. Well, eventually her bad boyfriend made the mistake of getting violent with Cherry in front of one of his guy friends. The other guy was shocked and outraged by it, and before she knew what was happening, they were wrestling with each other and throwing punches right there in the street, while she was standing off to the side yelling at them to stop fighting. Her boyfriend pulled out a switch blade and dug it into the other boy’s forearm, but at that point, the police finally got involved and broke up the fight. Cherry told her boyfriend that it was over between them as the police were shoving him into the back of the cop car, and she has been dating the other boy (a.k.a. her “hero”) ever since. Although, she has admitted to us that she is not in love with her new boyfriend like she was with the old one (why do nice guys finish last?), but she feels she feels obligated to stay with him out of gratitude for taking a knife for her. He still has a pretty gnarly scar on his arm; she had him show it to us once.

However, since then, the new boyfriend has also showed signs of being a bad boy. I suppose we should have seen it coming, considering he was good friends with the criminal ex-boyfriend. I remember Justin receiving a phone call from Cherry a few months back, and being shocked to hear him respond to her, “No, Cherry. I think it’s wrong that your boyfriend steals your credit card and uses it to buy expensive clothes. I don’t think he should do that…” So at our dinner last week, it was only mildly surprising to learn that the bad boy behavior has continued. Cherry explained, “Over winter holiday I went home, and my boyfriend stayed here. And he found a new girl, and they…” she was at a loss for the English word, so she simple intertwined her two index fingers together. I let out a gasp: “He CHEATED on you?!” “Yes!” she affirmed, “He cheat.” I hated to ask, because I already suspected I knew the answer, but nevertheless, I ventured, “And you are not with him anymore, right?” “No,” she replied. “I stay with him.” “Cherry!” I cried, in my best mother-admonishment voice. She tried her best to justify the situation. “When I found out, I was very angry! Very sad. And I do not want to talk with him. So I go home for a while. My mother told me she does not want me to be with him,” she explained. “She wants you to find someone better,” I said. “No,” Cherry countered, “She says I should not have boyfriend. I should focus on my studies and I have time for boyfriend after college. Do mothers in America feel the same?” I had to laugh. I think mothers all over the world feel the same! She continued her story: “So I go back to school and talk with him. He said he will not see that girl any more. And I forgive him. But her, I hate. She is fat, and ugly, and STUPID. I hate her.” I rolled my eyes. How are girls always able to think that their cheating boyfriend is blameless, and save all of their hate for the cheating girl? It takes two! I had to be honest with her. “I don’t like this, Cherry,” I said. “I think you should find someone better. I have dated a bad boy before…I know all about it. But now I have Justin. And Justin is nice to me, and he never gets into fights or hurts me or cheats on me. You need to find someone like him,” I said. Cherry gave me a rueful smile. “But maybe not everyone can be so lucky,” she said in a sad voice.

Poor Cherry! I had always nurtured a hope that we could set her up with William, who admittedly thinks he’s a playboy, but I don’t think he would ever cheat or unleash any street rage. He just likes to flirt with girls. All the time. However, we caught up with William a few weeks ago, and we found out that he has a brand new girlfriend, so his extraneous flirting days are over, for now. We don’t see William too often, but he does like to pop into my classes now and then and listen to me lecture, just for fun (can you believe that?). Justin has also bumped into him out on the basketball court, not playing of course–William is always dressed to the nines, which is probably a rule written somewhere in the playboy code, and he wouldn’t want his shirt to become untucked or get his hair messed up–he just goes to watch and cheer for his friends. He came out to watch Justin play one day not too long ago, which Justin admitted was a bit distracting since William kept calling out English questions from the sidelines. “What is this you are doing, Justin?” “It’s called a free-throw,” Justin responds. “What is it you said? A free-throw?” he clarifies, as Justin shoots and misses. “And that,” Justin says glumly,”is called a miss.”

As for Mickery and Catherine, they are keeping busy with academics as always. We actually managed to help Mickery get a part-time tutoring job at an English language school. They were actually trying to recruit us for the job, but we turned them down and gave them Mickery’s and Catherine’s numbers instead. Catherine did not end up getting the job because there was some sort of examination requirement that she had to fulfill to be eligible, and she did not pass the test (a fact that Mickery likes to tease her about often). Though it started as a joke, this has become a real sore spot for her lately since she recently entered a speech contest and a very Simon-Cowell-like Chinese judge told her that her spoken English needed a lot of work. “That’s not true!” we told her. “Listen to us! We are REAL native English speakers, and we think your English is great. It might even be better than some of the English teachers at this school,” we whispered confidentially, which made her crack a smile. I hate to see her confidence take such a hit when she really is the most fluent English-speaking student we know (she’s even better at conversation than Mickery…he’s just a better standardized test-taker, I’ll wager).

A few days ago, we got together with Catherine and Mickery at our school cafeteria for dinner. Catherine complimented Justin on how far he has come with his Chinese-speaking skills, and she tested him by speaking in Chinese to see how much he could understand. She seemed very impressed! We also mercilessly made jokes about Mickery’s roommate, whose English name is (no joke) The Wolf. Catherine can’t stand The Wolf because she says he is lazy, and often makes Mickery go to his classes to take notes for him so that he can stay home and play computer games, or he makes Mickery go pick up dinner for him while he stays in the dorm room and sleeps. Mickery, nice guy that he is, usually obliges (we should set him up with Cherry!). We also brought these two good kids over to the dark side by convincing them to ditch their obligatory night-time study hall class after dinner to play hooky with us (we of course first had to teach them what the term “play hooky” means). Catherine, who has been going through a rebellious streak ever since her run-in with the Simon-Cowell speech judge, was completely on board with this idea. However, Mickery seemed really unnerved by the idea. In the end they both made a million phone calls to friends, asking them to cover for their absence somehow, and decided to have a bit of fun with us. We ended up visiting a bunch of different little bakeries in the city center before settling on eating dessert at 85 C, one of the only coffee shops in Huzhou. “I need to go have a run later tonight. I am getting too fat,” Mickery said, patting his non-existent belly. Keep in mind that he decided to forgo ordering dessert and ended up getting a hot green tea instead of coffee. “Me too! I will run with you!” chimed in Catherine (all ninety pounds of her). I looked down at my hot chocolate and slice of chocolate cake in shame. But not enough shame to agree to go running.

As for the Prince? He is the oldest of our student-friends, and he actually graduated at the end of the fall term. He is living in an apartment in Dong Yang, a town about three hours from here, and in the midst of a job search. We are actually going to visit him this week since we have a few days off of school, and we are really excited about it! There is a town nearby Dong Yang that is referred to as “The Chinese Hollywood,” and plays host to several big-time television and film studios. There are also supposed to be a bunch of famous Chinese movie stars who live there, though I’m not sure I would recognize any of them if we came face-to-face. Even so, I’m excited about reuniting with the Prince and taking a tour of Chinese Hollywood. It should be fun!

On a final note, we’ve also been meeting a lot of new people and making some new friends lately. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who can really speak English and be a potential friend-candidate, and who is just wanting to gawk at the foreigner and say hello. However, we try our best to be friendly to everyone, just in case a new friend ever comes our way. Case in point: I followed Justin to his kung fu class one evening this past week to watch and take some pictures, and I met Tian Tian, who was also there just to watch her boyfriend do kung-fu. There were some other girls there who were also just watching, but they only giggled and pointed at me, keeping their distance. Tian Tian boldly approached and sat down next to me to start a conversation. She is pretty good at English, though not quite as fluent as Catherine and Mickery (which is ironic, since Tian Tian is a student at the “bigger, better” college next door to ours). After talking to her for the duration of the kung fu practice (about an hour and a half), she casually mentioned that we could get together sometime for dinner. I gave her the Chinese response she was looking for and said, “Yes! This weekend!”

We actually ended up deciding to cook something in our apartment together, which is always a little scary, but we felt more confident knowing that Tian Tian would actually be able to read the Chinese characters on the stove to operate it properly. We went grocery shopping together, and then went back to our apartment to cook. Admittedly, Tian Tian did most of the work, with Justin and I helping and watching in the background. We told her that next time, we’ll have to have her over to cook her a western meal, and she liked that idea. She was a little bit quiet during most of the evening, even when her boyfriend Gui Long arrived later after his work shift ended. But I think she will come out of her shell and talk a bit more once we get to know her better. It could be the beginning of another great friendship!